Chapter Three; the wrecking ball
Aladdin, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,157
He couldn’t help but feel the pressure that rested upon his shoulders after Abu had found him in the locker room. He’d been attempting to shrug it off, to ignore the repercussions of his choice to stay in the competition, but he couldn’t after hearing his friend sound so worried. Somewhere beneath his bravado, he was nervous; but the second fight went as well as the first – even better if he considered that it took only two blows for his opponent to go down. The third fight ended abruptly, he hadn’t even heard the bell; he could feel the blood dripping from his knuckles from his punch to the other man’s nose, could still feel the faint tremble in his bones from the impact. The sound of crunching cartilage rang in his ears as his opponent was dragged out of the ring.
As the competition went on, the time between the fights dwindled; it was part of the challenge – it was harder to recover in three minutes than five, and even harder in a minute and a half instead of three. By the time the bell rang to start the fifth fight, Aladdin felt like he was slipping from one fight to another, seamlessly; a river of violence that roared and rolled through the ring, unstoppable and tumultuous – a force of nature.
Abu brought him a bottle of water as Aladdin took his forty-five-second break between fights, and Aladdin gulped it down greedily, sucking the last few mouthfuls out so hard that the bottle caved in on itself and suctioned against his lips. He threw it to the side and toweled the blood and sweat from his torso and arms. The warning bell rang and he caught the reflection of his opponent Abu’s wide, uneasy eyes.
He turned around, ready to face what he’d glimpsed, but realized promptly that even the growing terror on Abu’s face hadn’t been warning enough. The man was a monster. Wide as one of the palace doors, and almost as tall, his hulking opposition grinned down at him.
The loudspeaker crackled, and the announcer said, “Round One; the Annihilator versus Ali, for the title.”
By Allah, he was too tired for this, he thought. His heartbeat was thunderously loud and the seconds between the warning bell and the start bell dragged on sluggishly as his mind fully absorbed the spectrum of pain he was about to be in.
Abu slapped him on the shoulder easily, and said, “You can do this.”
Aladdin said nothing; he stepped forward into the ring just as the bell rang and the fight began. He wondered how he was going to get out of the ring, and allowed himself only one small hope: that he would get out alive.
He ducked as the Annihilator swung first, his fist nearly the size of Aladdin’s head, and rolled out of his opponent’s path; he rose to his feet after the second full roll, and moved lightly on his toes as the Annihilator lunged and feinted, trying to get close enough to do some damage. Aladdin was still quicker – even exhausted from six fights, even worn down and battered, even starving and bloody, he was faster. With a fresh batch of fear-driven adrenalin, his vision sharpened. He could feel each step of the Annihilator vibrate in the floor, and it gave him an edge – he knew movement the millisecond it happened, and he could react well enough to dodge the blows that followed each movement.
His opponent dove for him, hand balled into a tight fist, swinging right for Aladdin’s jaw, but Aladdin side stepped him at the last second. Aladdin locked his fingers around the Annihilator’s wrist; turning his body as his opponent blew passed him, Aladdin twisted the Annihilator’s arm behind his back. Aladdin didn’t stop when his opponent froze, the reality of his mistake dawning on him immediately; instead, Aladdin finished the move, yanking hard until he heard the loud crack of breaking bone and the pop of a dislocated shoulder.
Then, he released his grip and let the beast of a man cradle his severely wounded arm, tears of rage and pain streaking across the monster’s dirty, somewhat blood-stained, face.
The crowd behind them went wild and the sudden chaotic noise brought Aladdin back into the club, into the ring, into his conscious, exhausted body. His eyes immediately sought Abdul’s among the hordes of onlookers and it took him a matter of seconds to find him. Abdul was displeased – it was clear on his face, not even cloaked by a leery expression; he’d just lost an awful lot of money.
The odds had been on the Annihilator – as they always were; there was a reason the beast had been champion for months on end.
Aladdin brushed passed Abu and chased Abdul back into the locker room, grabbing him by the back of his suit coat and flinging him into a locker, hard. Abdul cried out, startled, and flinched when he caught a glimpse of Aladdin in his peripheral vision. Aladdin crossed his arms and scowled at the would-be thief.
“Going somewhere, Abdul?”
Abdul flinched again, keeping his eyes shut and his body curled inward protectively, he said, “Just to get the money out of the safe.”
“Liar,” Aladdin said, but his inflection was empty and disinterested. “You can’t trick a trickster, Abdul, isn’t that what they say?”
Abdul opened his eyes then and held his gaze, for a moment, on the floor at his feet before raising his eyes to meet Aladdin’s. He said, “I’ll take you to the safe,” and he sounded defeated.
Aladdin knew that sound – knew it well – and he let Abdul lead him down the back hallway into the office, taking great care to pay close attention to every move Abdul made. There was something in the safe that Aladdin would not like – but he could not tell whether it was rigged, so that if he were paranoid enough to insist on opening the safe himself he would be blown to bits, or if it was something Abdul would have to get his hands on to use against Aladdin. Keeping close enough to react to either scenario, Aladdin watched Abdul spin the lock. He saw the glint of light on the barrel of a handgun as the door of the safe was swung open, and he did not resist the urge to grab Abdul by his long hair and yank him just out of reach of the weapon.
“You can watch me count it out,” Aladdin said, shoving Abdul down into one of the uncomfortable guest chairs. He pulled the money out of the safe and slammed it shut, spinning the lock to insure that Abdul would not get it open quickly. Prepare for all circumstances, he recited inwardly.
In silence, he counted out his cut of the bet profits and the prize money. Aladdin pocketed the bills and left the office.